BUFFALO, N.Y. — Some people think that colorectal cancer is an "old person's disease" or that it's mostly men that are diagnosed, but statistics prove otherwise — and two women from Western New York shared their stories with Channel 2's Heather Ly in the hopes of raising awareness and encouraging people to get their screenings.
"I believe I am meant to be here to help people." — Christine Bacon, diagnosed at 44
Christine Bacon was diagnosed five years ago when she was 44. She knows it can be an uncomfortable topic for some people, but she says being open and honest about her story and symptoms can help save lives.
Bacon, a wife and mother of three, had hemorrhoids after she had her third child.
"Some of the symptoms went on and on. I went to a doctor or two... two visits. And [they said] you're good, and why would they think anything would be wrong?" said Bacon, a Salamanca native who now lives in Park City, Utah.
Her symptoms increased, and a coworker encouraged her to get checked out again.
"A good friend said it's time to go see a doctor. At first, I said, I'm fine. It is what it is. I never thought at 44 I would be diagnosed with colorectal cancer," said Bacon.
She's worked in the natural health field for many years and lives a healthy lifestyle, so her diagnosis came as a shock. She had no family history of colorectal cancer.
She was diagnosed with Stage 3A colorectal cancer. She underwent radiation, two surgeries, and had six months of chemotherapy. She got her treatment at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Bacon encourages everyone to listen to their bodies, get second opinions, know their health history, and get screenings.
"Like my stepmom says, you have to put your safety mask on first before you can help others," said Bacon. "That has been such an amazing reminder to me that I've got to take care of myself. We have to take care of ourselves first as women because I know with me I tend to, did tend to put everyone else before myself."
"I look normal, but on the inside, there's stuff going on." — Stefanie Wutz, diagnosed at 31
Stefanie Wutz's cancer story began in February 2021, though at the time she never imagined it was cancer.
She went to a colorectal surgeon to take care of an abscess. She's had Crohn's disease since she was 14, so she's no stranger to colonoscopies and gastrointestinal health but something was off during one of her checkups.
"In my teens, going into my 20s, [you think] eh I'm fine. No big deal. I did everything I had to. I went to the doctors. I did what I needed to do. I had my colonoscopies every couple of years. It was just crazy that this came up," said Wutz, a 31-year-old wife and mother from Orchard Park. "I've had so many colonoscopies that I couldn't even count. That's why it was concerning that this one was a little different."
She was screened for and diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer in October 2021. She was on chemotherapy for about three weeks during the holidays, but her body didn't respond well to it.
"They took me off the chemo, and they did surgery right away. That was a full colectomy, and they took four feet of my intestines out," said Wutz. She now lives with a colostomy bag.
Her nine-hour surgery was on January 28, 2022.
She can't wait to pick up her two-year-old daughter, Nora.
"A daughter wants her mother. She wants to get picked up, and after the surgery, even right now, I'm not even supposed to be picking her up. She does mommy and me dance classes every Wednesday. Now I can't go, but I will be there next year," said Wutz.
Wutz is undergoing 12 rounds of chemotherapy over the next six months. She's also getting treatment through Roswell Park.
Like Bacon, Wutz talks openly about her diagnosis and symptoms because she knows normalizing the conversation about colorectal cancer might prevent someone else from going through what she's gone through.
"It's important for me because I was always like, oh nothing's wrong with me. For 18 years, and now it's like, hey this is what happened. This is what's going on in my life, and I want people to know that it's okay," said Wutz.
"Nobody is invincible. You should really just get checked. It can happen to anybody," said Wutz.
According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is one in 25 for women, and from 2012 through 2016, cases increased by 2-percent each year in people under 50.
Colorectal cancer symptoms include:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that's not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
The United States Preventive Services Task Force recently lowered the recommended age for colorectal cancer screening from 50-years-old to 45-years-old. You should talk to your doctor about getting screened sooner if you have symptoms or family history.
Regular screening for colorectal cancer can find growths that can be removed before they turn into cancer, as well as find cancer earlier when treatment works best.
Erie County's Cancer Services Program (CSP) offers free colorectal cancer screening for men and women 45 and older. People at risk for colorectal cancer and those who do not have health insurance may qualify.